51 Employee Appreciation Day Ideas That Won’t Break The Bank in 2024

employee appreciation day

Employee appreciation day is on Friday the 1st of March this year. You want to show your employees that you appreciate them. But you don’t want to spend an exorbitant amount of money demonstrating your gratitude.

This is a predicament many organizations find themselves in. They want to reward their workers, but they don’t necessarily have a huge budget for it.

The good news? Employee appreciation doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg. And even if you don’t have the budget for a huge bash, it’s better to recognize your team members in small ways than to not do anything at all.

Here at ZoomShift, the leading employee scheduling tool, we like to know how individual employees want to and like to be recognized. Customizing rewards will ensure that each of your valued workers feels appreciated.

Here are 50+ employee appreciation day ideas that won’t break the bank.

1. Virtual Reality Day

Virtual reality is a fast-emerging, much talked about technology trend. Don’t you think your employees would love to be able to play in a digital playground for a while? You may be able to find a service in your locality that could provide the technology for just such an event.

2. Personal Project Time


Google had the famous 20-percent-time policy (not in use at Google anymore due to increasing employee commitments). You could consider giving your team members a few hours or a full day to work on a project or assignment they would enjoy doing.

3. Guest Speaker

You could invite a relevant industry speaker or influencer to come in and share their knowledge and experience. This could add value to your team members and give them a break from the usual routine.

Employee Appreciation Day Ideas - Guest Speaker

4. Half Day Off

Give your employees a little bit of time off to recoup and tend to their personal lives. You could schedule the half days just before long weekends if you want to show added appreciation. No one is going to complain about less time at work. Gifts from the employee schedule are a great way to show appreciation to employees.

You can use employee scheduling software to help plan this in advance. with an employee scheduler, you can invite your team to view their schedules and agree on what dates they’d like a company-wide half day. Show your appreciation by allowing employees to make decisions as a group.

5. Concert

Bring in a local artist or band to perform for your team members. If possible, find musicians that cater to the tastes of your workers and play songs you know they enjoy.

6. Walk

Stuck at work on a hot summer day? Why not take your employees out for a stroll? This is a good way to encourage conversation, get everyone’s blood flowing, and idea muscles working. You could also combine this activity with another – like getting ice cream.

7. Recognition

Every worker likes to be recognized and thanked for the contribution they make to the company. Public recognition is even better. Whether it’s at a weekly meeting, during lunch break, or through an employee of the month program, find a way to reward your employees for their hard work.

Additionally, say “thank you” often, learn the names of all your staff, and treat them the way they want to be treated. The little things do add up.

8. Ice Cream

Take your whole team out for ice cream on a day that’s convenient. Or, if everyone can’t go at once, do it in shifts. This gives your staff a chance to breathe a sigh of relief, spend some time away from work, and enjoy a tasty treat.

9. Thank You Notes

It’s a small gesture, but it can go a long way.

Employee Appreciation Day Ideas - Thank You Notes

You can also pass them around to other team members to have them sign it.

10. Extended Lunch Break

Workers are sometimes rushed throughout the day, and even when they’re on lunch, they may not have a moment to collect their thoughts and recharge. Extended lunch breaks can offer more flexibility to their day, and maybe give them a chance to go and eat at a place they’re interested in, but aren’t normally able to get to.

With the help of employee time tracking software, you give an additional lunch break time for the particular employee on a particular day. This way the extended lunch breaks won’t affect their paid hours.

11. Video Games

You could set up a popular video game in the break-room for a little entertainment – preferably something that’s multi-player for added engagement. Have your employees split up into teams to compete. You may have to put a time limit on use or tear it down after a certain time so everyone doesn’t get carried away.

12. Dessert Buffet

Put together a dessert buffet for your people to enjoy. It could also be a sundae bar where your team can choose the toppings they want on their dessert. A nice treat can put everyone in a better mood.

13. Movie

How about an afternoon movie to entertain and delight your staff members? You don’t have to go to the theatres – you could set this up in a break room or meeting room. Again, you could do this in shifts if you can’t have all your team members watching a movie at the same time.

Alternatively, you could also give away movie tickets to your employees, thus giving them a chance to enjoy a movie with their friends or spouses on their own time.

14. Board Game Day

Everyone has their favorite board game. Encourage your employees to bring one that everyone can play. Have a few tables set aside for this so you can have multiple games going at the same time.

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15. Take Over Their Tasks

This shouldn’t break the bank. You could take over assignments and tasks from your team members and lighten their load.

Alternatively, you could also let your employee’s trade tasks they don’t want to do for ones they would rather work on.

16. Boss For A Day

Let your employees take charge and make decisions for a day. Give them greater responsibilities and higher standards to live up to. You may be surprised by how well they handle their new duties – something to recognize in itself.

17. Small Gifts

Though new technology (like tablets and computers), chairs and desks could cost you a hefty sum, buying smaller gifts like stationery or low-cost software shouldn’t run your business into the ground. Another idea might be to buy gift cards.

Employee Appreciation Day Ideas - Small Gifts

18. Social Media Love

Recognize your best employees on social media. You could make this a weekly initiative, or a monthly program depending on what works best for you.

This also shows your prospects and clients that you are human and care about your employees. This can boost your overall reputation.

19. Recognition Platform

Use a platform like Bonusly to encourage recognition across your team. Bonusly encourages anyone on a team to recognize anyone else in the form of a small, public bonus, from an intern to the CEO. Your team members can also redeem those bonuses in a catalog with hundreds of reward partners.

You could also do something similar without the use of an app. You could create a leaderboard and award each of your employees points based on their performance. There should be a real reward attached to these points, however.

20. Website Appreciation

Create a section on your homepage for featured employees. Use it to highlight those who are doing extraordinary in their roles.

21. Picnic

Who doesn’t like a free lunch? An outdoor picnic can be a great way to show appreciation for your employees, particularly if the weather cooperates. It can also provide an opportunity for everyone to get to know each other better.

22. Caricatures

Invite a caricature artist to come into the workplace to compose funny drawings for everyone. Fun for all!

23. Recognize The Achievement Of Personal Goals

When you take the time to appreciate when employees achieve goals outside of the workplace, they’ll be reminded of the fact that you care about them as people, not just as cogs in a wheel.

You can also reward your people with gifts connected to their passions (such as a book about fishing if one of your employees loves fishing).

24. Donate

Donate to a cause or charity of the employee’s choice. It doesn’t need to be a significant amount, but your team members will appreciate the chance to make a decision like this, and the fact that you’re expressing interest in something they believe in or care about.

25. Internal Recognition

If you’re using a team communication or project management software (such as Slack or Basecamp), set aside a channel or section just for recognizing outstanding staff members. This gives everyone a chance to congratulate each other.

26. Pizza

Who doesn’t like a good slice of pizza? Hold pizza days periodically to show your employees that you care. Or, combine a pizza lunch with other activities on this list, such as a movie.

27. Let Your Employees Choose An Activity

Put together a few employee appreciation day activity ideas in advance, present them to your employees, and then let them select which one they would most like to do. Also, you can always ask your employees to share their suggestions and chose the one best suited for the day as per your company culture.

28. Go Bowling

Get away from the workplace for a while. Invite the team out to enjoy a game of bowling, and get to know your people away from work.

29. Ping Pong

Set up a ping pong table in a decent-sized room and let your team members play a few games throughout the day. It should be easy for your employees to take turns, and you could even set up a tournament for more fun. If you want to prepare a prize for the winner, you could also do that.

30. Give Up Your Parking Spot

And don’t just let them use it for the day. Consider giving them the convenience of taking it over for a week or even a month.

31. Surprise!

Plan and organize a surprise celebration. This can really lift the spirits of your workers, especially since you never know who might be feeling a bit down (and you may not even be aware of it).

32. Wash Their Car

With the right equipment, you might even be able to do this on-site. If not, a quick car wash at the local gas station shouldn’t cost you too much.

33. Company Newsletter

Recognize exceptional workers in your company newsletter. Make them feel special.

34. Field Trip

Take your employees on a tour of a partnering vendor’s facilities.

Employee Appreciation Day Ideas - Field Trip

35. Trophy

Get a trophy to recognize employees who go above and beyond the call of duty. Let them hang onto it for a week, and then pass it on to another person who is doing great work.

36. Magazine Subscription

Buy a magazine subscription of their choosing. Since new issues arrive multiple times per year, you get to thank them for their work multiple times – not just once.

37. Love From Everyone

Get everyone from your team to write something for the person you’re looking to recognize, whether it’s on a card, poster board, or a notebook. Present it to your outstanding staff member.

38. Thank You Video

Go beyond the standard “thank you” note. Put together a special “thank you” video for your team members. If appropriate, the video could also be posted to YouTube, and be featured on your company blog or website.

39. Email

Send out a company-wide email acknowledging the great work your team is doing. Again, recognition is better when it’s public.

40. BBQ

Summer is a great time to hold an annual barbecue for your staff. This gives them something to look forward to.

41. Make Your Own Video

Let your employees go crazy with a creative video project. They shouldn’t need anything more than a good smartphone to capture and create their own masterpieces. You could have your staff break up into groups and compete for the best video. Make it a themed event – such as a comedy or music.

42. Invest In Their Growth

Employees tend to stay with companies that are genuinely interested in their ongoing progression and growth. You could put together a shelf of materials, such as books and audiobooks, that employees can access to learn new skills and improve in their work.

You could also call upon an industry expert or life coach for the day to train your team member.

43. Vision Board

Create a vision board for your entire organization, and let your team members contribute to it. Get them to think about where they’d like to see the company go in the future. Let them post pictures on the vision board. Discuss goals and visions together.

44. Comedy

Invite a local comedian in to entertain your team members. There’s no medicine like laughter. Remember – keep it clean and keep it fun.

45. Photos For Fun

Give your workers the opportunity to snap silly photos. Provide props, wigs, and other items to make it fun. You could also make it a group photo op.

46. Nicknames

Many companies are known to give their employees nicknames. It might be characters from The Lord of the Rings, or it might be funny job titles (i.e. Marketing Ninja, or Copywriting Guru).

Employee Appreciation Day Ideas - Nicknames

47. Call

You can recognize your employees in a variety of ways – with videos, social media posts, emails, and so on. But sometimes a phone call is exactly what a worker wants and needs. Take the time to thank your people by phone.

48. Meditation

Organize a guided meditation session for your employees. This shows that you care about their general well-being. There are many health benefits to meditation, and if you hold the session midday, it may even give your team members a needed energy boost to get through the second part of their day.

49. Contest

For example, you could hold a contest to decide on the company’s new tagline or motto. Whoever comes up with the best idea wins, and is rewarded with a nice prize.

You can hold any kind of contest you want, so long as it’s appropriate. Contests are fun and encourage creativity among your workers.

50. Certificates

Put a certificate program into place. Create milestones for your employees to reach, and when they earn certain certificates of excellence. Recognize their achievements.

51. Pool

Bowling is just one outside activity that can be a lot of fun. The swimming pool or local leisure center is another place that can be quite relaxing and enjoyable for your team members.


Without employee engagement, your workers will lose interest in their job. The cost of replacing and training a new worker are much too high to ignore.

By showing your employees appreciation on a regular basis, you will retain more of your talent and foster an environment of excellence. People tend to do their best work when they’re happy and in good spirits.

So, act now. Implement one or two of the above ideas immediately and watch as motivation within your company begins to soar.

What employee appreciation day ideas have you tried in your workplace? What has worked for you? Have you had any ideas go sideways?

JD Spinoza

JD enjoys teaching people how to use ZoomShift to save time spent on scheduling. He’s curious, likes learning new things everyday and playing the guitar (although it’s a work in progress).